Riddle: What do you call a guy in a band without a girlfriend?
The joke is old as Granny's panties, but guys in bands--not the mega-stars who date equally wealthy models and actresses, but moderately successful types--have parlayed the sensitive bad boy schtick into an art. Inexplicably, the ruse works. The average rocker may be short, unathletic and lacking in manners and hygiene, but one thing he'll never lack is female company: someone with whom to share his hopes, his dreams, his poorly recorded demos ... .
While it's easy to see how young girls get starry-eyed at a concert when the lead singer seems to be singing right to them, women should know better, especially if they're musicians themselves. On the flip side, these perpetually youthful man-children are the only ones who truly understand the lifestyle: the loneliness, sacrifice and lack of glamour that are the realities of a touring musician's life. And they're more interesting (read: messed up) than bean counters and investment bankers. They also look younger. Maybe it's the lack of stress in their lives, having opted out of the competitive corporate world.
Recently a group of female musicians gathered at Raleigh's Havana Club before Valentine's Day to share thoughts on dating musicians. We debunk a few "band guy" myths, create new ones and tackle the big questions: manners, hygiene, "the code of the road" and the lack of, well, responsibility that characterizes most of our male musician friends and lovers. Included were Tres Chicas' Lynn Blakey, Caitlin Cary and Tonya Lamm; violinist/bass player Margaret White (The Comas, Sparklehorse); and Sara Bell (Shark Quest, Regina Hexaphone). Each of these women has toured and seen their fellow (male) band mates in action, yet they still date (and marry) musicians. All told, is dating a rocker worth it?
The Independent: Most of the major male rock icons are tiny: These were the last guys picked to play football or soccer. For some of these guys, there's almost a "revenge of the nerds" quality to having women adore them. Do guys join bands to get chicks?
Bell: I was watching a late night interview with Billy Joel and the interviewer said, "Tell me the truth. Do you know anybody who joined a band other than to get chicks?" And he said, "No, that's why I did it." And I asked my friend, "Is that why you joined a band?" And he said, "Yeah." I never thought I could get boys from playing in a band.
Lamm: If girls want to get laid they can go out and get laid. So we don't have to join a band to get laid.
When you were younger, did you think you'd end up dating rock musicians?
Lamm: Oh yeah--the English fey rock-boy fantasy, and you'd go live in his castle.
Bell: I always thought I'd be with a sulky rocker.
What about dating within the band?
Lamm: You don't date anyone you work with. It's the same thing [in the music world]. Our code is that you don't sleep with anybody in the band. And you don't sleep with anybody who's slept with anybody else in the band. You don't sleep with anybody's ex-boyfriend. If anybody has a really huge crush on somebody they call a "hands-off crush" and everybody steers clear.
What's the sorriest music guy date you've ever been on?
Blakey: When the girlfriend showed up. I've been threatened with a beer bottle twice. They never tell you they have a girlfriend. Maybe they're breaking up with a girl but she doesn't know it yet. Every guy I've ever gone out with has had a girlfriend that I didn't find out about 'til one or two months later.
Lamm: That's what happens when you meet a guy who lives in a couple different places. Where are they going to crash when they're not on the road and they don't have a girlfriend?
Blakey: I had a date with [a well-known Minneapolis rocker]. He opened a can of Spaghettios. Then we sat down and he taught me how to play one of his songs on guitar. It was actually sweet--and I still remember that song.
What about the responsibility thing?
Bell: I think they need someone to take care of them for the most part. Or they think they do.
White: We were talking the other night, and there are two guys and two girls in our band, and we realized that we're the ones with the cars. I'm always impressed when I meet a guy in a band and he's responsible and calls and pays for stuff.
Lamm: I think if they're around a bunch of women, something happens. One: Mom will take care of them. Two: They don't want to dominate you, and that's a really bad combination; they just start getting incapacitated.
Bell: If you've dedicated your life to rock and roll, you've dedicated your life to the ethic of your 17-year-old self. Then you get to be 33 and suddenly you're still doing it. Growing up is not part of the rock and roll ethic.
Cary: But that's good, because none of us look our age. I was working the door at the Connell's show checking IDs and there were people that were way younger than me, and I was looking at their IDs thinking, "You were born in 1970? You look old! You have "lady" hair and a "lady" face!
What about all the attention these guys get from other women?
Bell: That perpetuates the 17-year-old behavior. I had a boyfriend who was in a popular band, and after the show the little teeming throngs of women would be there. It was funny but I would just stand back and go, "God."
Lamm: It's probably nicer to be married to an asshole rock star than Joe Whoever.
Cary: With women who tolerate that kind of stuff, they're caught up in that romantic idea of what that person is [as a performer]. The rock guys I know get forgiven transgressions that nobody else gets away with.
Bell: But nobody gets to that position without cultivating it themselves, and then the people that want to be part of the fame just feed it.
Cary: Dealing with my particular case in point--I've always been astonished that [groupies] didn't even notice this person's hygiene.
As a female musician, don't you feel betrayed by groupies? Sort of like, "C'mon sisters."
Cary: Those were the times when I most felt like the mom, when girls would come on the bus and completely dismiss me and I'd just kind of go, "Wow, you're going to go kiss a guy who hasn't brushed his teeth in three months ... literally." I was pretty much ignored in those situations. I would usually try to hide and leave or go into my bunk. There were good quotes [the lead singer] would get. Girls would come up to him and say, "When I hear you sing, I just get wet."
Blakey: I know so many guys in bands who live double lives. I have so many friends in bands and I know their girlfriends, and I see them cheating.
Do you worry about your guys cheating on the road, and if they do, is it better not to know?
Bell: I do want to know. I don't like being lied to.
Lamm: What I have thought to myself is that if I was with someone I was in love with and we were separated a lot and I felt very secure about how they felt about me, then I could somehow feel that it would be OK, as long as they weren't a dog, because it's so lonely out there that you feel like anybody who can make you feel a little bit better ... .
Bell: I understand what you're saying. When that sort of thing happened to me it was something I wanted to get past. I was like, this is not going to fuck up this relationship. I don't want this to become an issue.
What about the "Code of the Road"--what goes down on the road, stays on the road?
Bell: I'm not willing to play that game. I don't want to perpetuate that.
Cary: There's definitely a "girl in the band thing" where you're supposed to turn a blind eye to that stuff.
Bell: If I knew someone well enough I probably would be able to tell them. Usually, it's easier to talk to the guy and say, "She knows."
Lamm: I obeyed the code one time. I hated it. I hated myself, but I selfishly knew that if I violated it I would be ostracized.
Do band guys make good boyfriends?
Cary and Blakey (together): Not lead singers!
Lamm: I find that with guys, once they're on the road a lot and they give themselves permission to fuck around, it becomes an addiction. Then, if you do find a woman you like and you want to have a relationship and you go out on the road it's like, there you are again, and the temptation is too great because you know how easy it is.
Bell: Men do have a different attitude about sex and anonymity. I know that sex or love means as much to every man and woman as it does to the next person, but there is just this ability to do it that I have a hard time with--to meet some absolute stranger and ... .
Why can't women be dogs?
Lamm: Chrissie Hynde or Liz Phair said, "Guys are so intimidated by girls rockers, because if they go up to you and put the move on you and you turn them down, they won't be able to get it up for a year."
Cary: I feel like if you're a girl in a band, guys are scared to death of you. Nobody ever hits on me ... ever. One time somebody told someone in the crowds that they thought I was hot, and then you get the old middle-aged freaks--at least the kind of band I played in--that go, "Well, I've got a bunch of pictures of you in my basement." No cute guys ever hit on girls in bands.
White: Usually guys will come up when we play and just hang around or go backstage--it's a better way to get beer than the beer tickets. A lot of the time, they're kind of awkward and they just stand there. For me, it's the girls that'll come up and say, "That was awesome."
As Tom Waits puts it, can't guys just "take advantage of themselves" on the road instead of cheating?
Lamm: Oh God! Have you heard of the "bunk sock"? It's all wanking and sports.
Cary: First pull of the tour, I just heard that for the first time.
How do you deal with the nonstop maleness of the road?
Bell: You just become equal.
Cary: I feel like I gave up my feminine side. I stopped defending manners, etc.
So, all in all, are they--rock guys--worth it?
Lamm: The bad things are exaggerated, but so are the good things. Everything is more intense when you're living that life.
Bell: I want someone to be a man--a mensch--but I don't want to forget that 17-year-old-boy rock dream. Rock and roll is a very important thing to me but I don't want to sing about the things I would have sung about when I was 17. I hold tight to the fantasy that the person would like to do the things I like to do but still be a good man. You definitely have something in common, and you know that nobody can really understand how fucked up your lifestyle is if they work at IBM or are not a music person. I've had the most encouragement from men--I don't want this to be a diss session about men.
Cary: It's completely incomprehensible to people who don't do it. And if you're touring a lot you can feel incredibly misunderstood and alone.
Lamm: Everybody has an idea of how great it is, but it's the loneliest you've ever been--times 25--every day.
What are these band guys like when we women aren't around?
White: Well, they (she names a local band) have a pee hole in their van so they don't have to stop when they're doing long tour drives.